Demons (1985)


Director: Lamberto Bava

Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo, Fabiola Toledo, Nicoletta Elmi, Stelio Candelli, Nicole Tessier, Geretta Geretta, Bobby Rhodes, Guido Baldi, Bettina Ciampolini

Words – Oliver Innocent.

By the time Demons was unleashed in 1985 Italian horror cinema was well-established, boasting some of the most unique, innovative, and extreme films the genre had to offer. Italian horror films were typified by a heady mix of stylish arthouse, gory exploitation, and surreal, dreamlike imagery. They even spawned their own sub-genres, the Giallo (murder mysteries featuring black-gloved killers; a precursor to the American slasher), and cannibal jungle films, as well as taking George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead zombie formula and making it their own.

Just as the new wave of American horror of the late 1960s and early 1970s helped established genre auteurs like Wes Craven and John Carpenter, so too did the Italian horror scene that ran parallel to it. Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento were Italy’s answer to the likes of Craven and Carpenter; filmmakers who innovated new styles and took the genre in different, hitherto unexplored, directions. Argento became the face of Italian horror with his 1977 aural and visual assault on the senses Suspiria, perhaps the quintessential Italian horror film.

Following a succession of high quality Giallo and supernatural horrors, in 1985 Argento turned his attention to producing. The project was Demons, a variation on the zombie formula in which a horror film screening turns to real horror, as the gloriously menacing looking Metropol movie theatre is overrun by audience members transformed into bloodthirsty demons.

Unlike Argento’s own films, the Lamberto Bava directed Demons feels much more like a conscious attempt at an American style effects-driven horror influenced by the likes of An American Werewolf in London and The Thing. Indeed, Demons more than holds its own with the US competition, delivering bursting ‘bladder’ effects, gallons of gore, and a couple of bravura transformation sequences courtesy of special effects wizard Sergio Stivaletti. The titular demons themselves also impress with their suitably disgusting green skin, long nails, toothy, drooling jaws, and glowing eyes.

Despite this desire to emulate the effects heavy horrors coming out of the States at the time, Demons is still very much an Italian horror film at heart. The minimal plot, lack of explanation, and succession of absurd and gory imagery more than attest to its Italian heritage. There is also that staple of Italian horror, the eye gouging scene, as well as references to Lamberto Bava’s father Mario Bava’s films; the mask in the theatre lobby resembles the one famously nailed to the witch’s face in the opening of Mario Bava’s 1960 gothic classic Black Sunday.

Another characteristically Italian element is the film’s raucous soundtrack. The synth score courtesy of frequent Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti (keyboard player for progressive rock band Goblin who scored Suspiria) stands out with its insanely catchy yet menacing dance-like beats. Then there’s the pounding heavy metal tracks. Further adding to the film’s cult appeal, these tracks from the likes of Motley Crue and Saxon (plus more mainstream pop hits from Go West and Billy Idol) are the perfect accompaniment to the onscreen carnage.
The best example of this is German heavy metal band Accept’s anthem Fast as a Shark blaring out of the speakers as the hero speeds through the movie theatre on a motorbike, chopping demons to pieces with a katana sword. If there’s a single scene in Demons that perfectly encapsulates the essence of the film, then this is it. Loud, gory, and insane, Demons ranks as one of the most fun, endlessly rewatchable horror films of the 1980s.